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The Sacred Table

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

–Alice Walker, The Color Purple

A few years ago I traveled home to the United States from France after two solid years abroad. I cried walking through the American airport, overwhelmed by the familiar. I was finally home.

But I was surprised by the French things I missed during my visit. In particular, the French approach to meals shared together. In France you never eat alone (unless you are alone), not even at breakfast. At home in the U.S., I was often asked “do you like blue cheese dressing?” Or, “how do you like your eggs cooked?”. Meals seemed to be about personalized choice rather than a shared and open experience.

Sometimes the French are viewed as intolerant in stereotypical ways, but I find their general approach to the sacredness of food and wine a testament to their openness. In the quest for the perfect combination of flavors–the most delectable moment–they allow themselves to submit to the experience collectively. As a friend recently described, they relish the subtleties of a meal in an almost frugal way, talking endlessly through a meal about the meal. And it doesn’t seem to matter if you don’t prefer that particular dish or recipe, it’s all about the pursuit.

André recently described some carrots we’d bought at the market as being especially aromatic. I don’t know many, if any, Americans who notice the seasonal change in the aroma of carrots!

It’s that French willingness to try a carrot, to sense it fully, that has invaded my own approach to eating and living. And what I’ve gained from that way of being is a widely expanded personal preference, with enough space to “notice the color purple in a field somewhere.”

There’s nothing I’d like more than to expose this simple and real approach to eating and living with my compatriots–or with any curious travelers–who are willing to open themselves up to the moment–the people, the food, the landscape, the weather, the physical exertion, the joy and the subtleties of the moment. Join us?

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